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Thieves are taking catalytic converters off vehicles in Thunder Bay

Replacing a converter can be expensive, especially if the vehicle isn't covered by comprehensive insurance
Catalytic converters are attractive targets for thieves looking to recycle or sell them

THUNDER BAY — The next time you hear a loud noise when you start your vehicle, or notice an unusual odour or increase in exhaust fumes, it could be because your catalytic converter has been stolen.

The devices, which reduce atmospheric pollutants, are increasingly being targeted by thieves across Canada.

Their value reflects the fact that they contain trace amounts of precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium.

Repair shops like Minute Muffler in Thunder Bay are noticing a trend.

"Oh yeah, big-time" said manager Tony Lederer. "It started coming on two months, maybe three months ago."

He said it's reached the point that when he comes in to work on a Monday morning, he's expecting to hear from customers needing to replace a stolen catalytic converter.

Thieves "are hitting them on the weekends," Lederer said in an interview. "Between Friday night and Sunday morning. And then my phone's ringing off the hook."

He said he had three calls on Monday morning this week alone.

It's not that difficult to remove a catalytic converter, especially from an SUV or pickup truck with a higher ground clearance.

They can be unbolted or cut out from the underside in a matter of minutes.

Since most catalytic converters are unmarked, they can't easily be traced to an individual vehicle, and may be converted to cash at a scrap metal dealer.

"Once it is out of a vehicle, it's really hard to figure out where it came from, even what type of vehicle let alone which specific vehicle it was cut out of," a spokesperson for the Automotive Recyclers of Canada told Global News.

Sanctions against Russia, where much of the rare metals used in catalytic converters is mined, have helped to increase their cost.

At Narvi's Auto Service in Thunder Bay, owner Wayne Jacques said he hasn't had to replace a stolen converter for a customer, but buyers are showing up in the city to acquire units that are no longer working.

"There's guys coming to town steady, wanting to buy any old converters that are plugged up, and they're paying a premium dollar. Because they break the palladium down and they can re-use it. They're also buying them from the wrecking yards."

Canadian insurance companies have reported increasing claims for compensation from clients for stolen converters.

Manitoba Public Insurance launched an online education initiative to help customers protect their vehicles  from catalytic converter thieves.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, vehicle owners need comprehensive insurance to cover vehicle theft or theft of parts.

Depending on the vehicle, and depending on whether an after-market product can be used, the cost of replacing a converter including installation can be $1,500 to $2,000 or more.

Thunder Bay police don't document the theft of catalytic converters specifically, but a crime analyst recalls one incident in the last year.

A police spokesperson said, however, that if there's been a recent rash of thefts, some may not have been reported yet, or may still be in the online reporting system queue, while others may not be reported to police at all.


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